Seven or eight months ago, Emmaus Life started this thing on Monday nights called “Villages.” I’m sure I have talked about it before, but in case I haven’t, it’s sort of like a small group, but yet very different. We all bring our Bibles and some of us bring small notebooks, so it sort of looks like a Bible study. But some nights we start off with a few worship songs. Some nights we don’t even bring our Bibles, but rather food and board games instead. Compared to the Bible studies, small groups, and community groups I’ve ever been to, this is significantly different.
Note that I say “different”; not “better.” I gained a lot from those other Bible studies; new perspectives on God, good friends, and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. What has made Villages so different, though, is that our focus is on each other. We’re not so caught up with controversial topics (like Rob Bell or gay marriage) or focusing all our energy on feeling more spiritual (as if that’s even possible). Instead, we’re pressed to share something of ourselves with each other. Whether it’s a thought, a worry, or simply something we learned that day at school, we’re invested in knowing each other a little more each time we meet with the overall effort of growing a village of Christians.
In essence, we’re growing village people.
Yet there’s something underlying that, too. There’s a purpose to our village: to learn how to develop as a group in order to come back home to our apartments, houses, classrooms, teammates, or even coworkers and carry out the same intentions when interacting with others. What we’re learning is a skill set of relating with other people, regardless of their spiritual affiliation, to care and share as God would have us do. Or, in other words, we’re learning what it means to be “little Christs.”
You’d think that a group of Christians would already have that part covered, right? I mean, isn’t that what all Christians seem to imply, that they have everything figured out – that they have the Truth (emphasis on the capital “T”)? Yet if we look in the Gospels, we see Jesus rebuking the know-it-alls again and again because they put so much of themselves into what they thought they knew that they completely missed out on embodying God’s Law. Modern day Christianity has a large population of those same religious elites.
It’s easy to do, though – especially when a good chunk of the Christian society affirms the know-it-all mindset. With a few prominent pastors and elders speaking out about the “essentials” of Christianity, we’re made to feel as though we’re doing it wrong if we’re doing anything different from what they taught. And when we’re guilted into believing we’re doing something wrong, we seek out whatever it is that we’re supposed to do – whatever would make us in the “right” – and we submit to it. If a pastor says the most essential thing for a Christian is to believe the doctrine of inerrancy or the Trinity or whatever agenda they’d like to promote, then we’re inclined to follow along because we’ve been convinced that whatever we’re following is “essential.” All the while Jesus says the entire Law is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor.
If that’s the most important thing, then how do we do it? How do we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths? The answer is easy, but its application isn’t: Regarding others as better than ourselves.
Our world teaches us the most important person, the only one in whom we can trust, is ourselves. What’s odd, though, is that in order to even believe the statement, “Trust no one but yourself,” we have to trust the person telling us. We have to trust in someone else. What God’s kingdom is all about, though, is more than trusting someone else; it’s regarding them as more important – as if our individual lives stop until we’ve cared for their lives first. Not to say we should completely disregard our own health, but to say that we won’t grow as individuals until we’ve learned to care for someone else.
Learning how to be “little Christs” in Villages, then, is simply learning how to care for each other – how to practice the first two commandments so often and so well that Christ’s nature will be our nature. It will be such a deeply rooted set of characteristics within us that it won’t matter how stressful work was, how much we disagree about various political issues, or what team we root for; what will matter is whether or not we showed love for the other guy.
Being a village person doesn’t involve costumes and hand-gesturing “Y,” “M,” “C,” or “A.” It involves a group of people who seek God in their individual lives and share their experiences in the communal life. Notice, though, we didn’t call our group “Village”; it’s called “Villages.” It doesn’t really make sense, though, since we’re one group meeting together. But that’s part of the process of going into our work places, grocery stores, coffee shops, sports teams, book clubs, or whatever other group of people we regularly encounter on a weekly basis: We’re creating more villages.
If you really think about all the different places you go from week to week, you begin to realize you have several different villages – even if none of those regular places is a church or Bible study. Let’s face it, most of us probably spend more time around our coworkers, teammates, or classmates than we do our fellow church-goers. If church focuses on something other than loving each other, then what are the chances someone from our regular lives is ever going to see the change in our lives? How are they going to see Christ in us if we aren’t practicing His characteristics?
What I think is most challenging about becoming a village person is that I can’t rely on my casual nature. Villages are intentional; when people ask how you’re doing, they don’t leave until you’ve told them. Yeah, it’s awkward. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. That’s the point. Insisting on caring for someone outside of ourselves isn’t natural, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary for the other person we’re caring about and it’s especially necessary for ourselves.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, love somebody else. Grow a village. Spread God’s kingdom.